Gagnon, John H(enry) 1931-
GAGNON, John H(enry) 1931-
PERSONAL: Born November 22, 1931, in Fall River, MA; son of George and Mary (Murphy) Gagnon; married Patricia Orlikoff, 1955 (divorced, 1978); children: Andree, Christopher. Education: University of Chicago, B.A., 1955, Ph.D., 1969.
CAREER: Northwestern University, Medical School, Evanston, IL, clinical assistant in psychiatry, 1958-59; Indiana University, Bloomington, lecturer in sociology, 1959-67, senior research sociologist and trustee of Institute for Sex Research, 1959-68; State University of New York at Stony Brook, associate professor, 1968-70, professor of sociology, beginning 1970, currently professor emeritus, director of Center for Continuing Education, 1970-72. Overseas fellow, Churchill College, Cambridge University, 1972-73; National Institute for Mental Health fellow, 1972-73. Member of board of advisers, National Sex and Drug Forum, 1968-71; member of steering committee, Biological Sciences Curriculum Study, 1968-71.
MEMBER: American Sociological Association, Society for the Study of Social Problems, American Association for the Advancement of Science, National Council on Family Relations, Association for the Study of Abortion, Sex Information and Education Council of the United States (member of board of directors, 1967-70), Illinois Academy of Criminology.
(With Paul H. Gebhard, Cornelia V. Christenson, and Wardell B. Pomeroy) Sex Offenders: An Analysis of Types, Harper (New York, NY), 1965.
(Editor, with William Simon) Sexual Deviance: AReader, Harper (New York, NY), 1967.
(With William Simon) The Sexual Scene, Aldine (Hawthorne, NY), 1970, 2nd edition, 1973.
(With William Simon) Sexual Conduct: The SocialSources of Human Sexuality, Aldine (Hawthorne, NY), 1973.
Human Sexualities, Scott, Foresman (New York, NY), 1977.
Human Sexuality in Today's World, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1977.
(With Cathy S. Greenblat) Life Designs: Individuals,Marriages, and Families, Scott, Foresman (New York, NY), 1977.
(With Robert T. Michael, Edward O. Laumann, and Gina Kolata) Sex in America: A Definitive Survey, Little, Brown (Boston, MA), 1994.
(Editor, with Richard G. Parker) Conceiving Sexuality:Approaches to Sex Research in a Postmodern World, Routledge (New York, NY), 1995.
(Editor, with Martin P. Levine and Peter M. Nardi) InChanging Times: Gay Men and Lesbians Encounter HIV/AIDS, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 1997.
An Interpretation of Desire: Essays in the Study ofSexuality, University of Chicago Press (Chicago, IL), 2004.
Contributor of articles and book reviews to scholarly journals. Associate editor, Social Problems, 1970-73; contributing editor, Change, 1971—; associate editor, Teaching Sociology, 1971-73; former member of editorial boards, American Journal of Sociology, Social Forces, Demography, and American Sociological Review.
SIDELIGHTS: John H. Gagnon is best known as the coauthor of The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States and its companion volume, Sex in America: A Definitive Survey. These two books draw upon a survey of more than 3,000 randomly selected Americans who were queried at length about their sexual habits and experiences. The two books spawned a great deal of commentary following their publication in 1994, as Gagnon and his fellow researchers came to the conclusion that monogamous couples enjoyed greater sexual frequency and contentment than single people and those with multiple partners. The survey also suggested that individuals who sought only homosexual relationships did not comprise as high a percentage of the overall population as had been previously thought. The Social Organization of Sexuality was written for a scientific audience, while Sex in America interpreted the findings for a general readership. Both books were widely reviewed and debated, as the authors "hint at dramatic redefinitions of gender and sexual practice," to quote David W. Murray in Sciences.
The sex survey was conducted under the aegis of the National Opinion Research Center and was titled the "National Health and Social Life Survey." Originally conceived as a project that would question approximately 10,000 Americans, the survey was hampered by a loss of federal funding. The scientists persisted, using private and foundation contributions to complete their work, which took seven years. As John DeLamater explained in Science, "The questionnaire content and the data analyses reported in both books were guided by a social-constructionist theoretical orientation. Three specific theories are used consistently in the interpretation of results. Sexual script theory (developed by Gagnon) suggests that culturally based scripts influence what kinds of people we select as partners and what behaviors we engage in." DeLamater added: "The presentation consistently contrasts what are said to be popular myths about sex with the findings of the survey. . . . The emphasis throughout is on how sexual behaviors and relationships are socially patterned."
Among the findings in Gagnon's two books that proved to be controversial is the assertion that only about three percent of men and two percent of women describe themselves as homosexual, while closer to five percent of males and females reported having had a same-sex erotic encounter since age eighteen. Also arousing controversy was the authors carefully worded suggestion that AIDS would not become a heterosexual epidemic in America due to social forces that stress marital monogamy and cultural mores, thus creating gaps between HIV-positive individuals and the general population. While these and other issues were debated in scientific and scholarly journals, the mainstream press seized upon the survey's disclosure that a vast majority of Americans were either happily monogamous or not engaging in sexual activity at all. As a U.S. News and World Report headline put it, "Fidelity Reigns."
In her Journal of the American Medical Association review of The Social Organization of Sexuality, Virginia A. Sadock wrote: "One of the strengths of this book is the straightforward, nonjudgmental reporting by the researchers and their cautious interpretation of results. . . . The large volume is a superb book for physicians and other professionals. It is clearly written, the data are readily accessible, and it is laden with well-explained graphs and charts. . . . Finally, it is of value to those interested in the facts, rather than the myths, about sexual behavior."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
American Journal of Sociology, J. Richard Udry, review of The Social Organization of Sexuality: Sexual Practices in the United States, p. 224.
Annals of the American Academy of Political andSocial Science, January, 1997, Roland Littlewood, review of The Social Organization of Sexuality, p. 205.
Archives of Sexual Behavior, June, 1997; August, 2003, p. 393.
Christian Century, June 21, 1995, Mary D. Pellauer, review of Sex in America: A Definitive Survey and The Social Organization of Sexuality, p. 642.
Entertainment Weekly, October 21, 1994, Lisa Schwarzbaum, review of Sex in America, p. 56.
Journal of Comparative Family Studies, autumn, 1996, Mary Valentich, review of The Social Organization of Sexuality, p. 573.
Journal of the American Medical Association, February 22, 1995, Virginia A. Sadock, review of The Social Organization of Sexuality, p. 675.
New England Journal of Medicine, May 25, 1995, John Money, review of Sex in America, p. 1452.
New Yorker, December 19, 1994, Anthony Lane, review of The Social Organization of Sexuality and Sex in America, p. 110.
New York Review of Books, April 20, 1995, R. C. Lewontin, review of The Social Organization of Sexuality and Sex in America, p. 24.
New York Times Book Review, October 30, 1994, Paul Robinson, review of The Social Organization of Sexuality and Sex in America, p. 3.
Science, October 20, 1995, John DeLamater, review of The Social Organization of Sexuality, p. 501.
Sciences, July-August, 1995, David W. Murray, review of The Social Organization of Sexuality, p. 44.
Scientific American, August, 1995, Vern L. Bullough, review of The Social Organization of Sexuality, p. 105.
Time, October 17, 1994, "The Truth about Americans and Sex."
U.S. News and World Report, October 17, 1994, "Fidelity Reigns."